By Christina Bossinakis
With Harvey Wallbanger (Congrats)’s 25-1 upset of the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull S. At Gulfstream Feb. 2, trainer Kenny McPeek finds himself with two horses on the Derby trail, including Signalman (General Quarters), winner of last fall’s GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. at Churchill. How will he keep the two apart, and how is Harvey doing since his Holy Bull win? Christina Bossinakis checked in with McPeek at Gulfstream.
CB: He has a great name. How did he get his name?
KM: Harold Lerner picked the name out. You know, Harold always is coming up with unique stuff and he’s a great client to have horses with because he has a lot of fun with it. He loved that name. We also named another one, in the same crop, Dewey Cheatum and Howe from the old Three Stooges episode. But he enjoys the process of naming the horses and I give him complete credit there.
He’s been a horse that’s done everything right from the beginning. Even when he sprinted at Saratoga, he had a nice second that day, and when we got two turn races in him at Churchill over the fall, he looked like a horse that was going to be a horse that fit in some of the three-year-old stakes. We gave him a little break. The break seemed to help him get a little bigger and stronger, and certainly the last win that he had at Churchill helped his confidence, and (last) Saturday’s race was huge, just was a real thrill.
CB: How did you get this horse?
KM: I bought him as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton in July. I typically work a lot of those auctions. That’s been kind of my MO for years. I work Fasig July, typically August also, the Keeneland September, come back to the Fasig October sale. I’ve specialized in yearlings for decades. Most people realize that Curlin was the best yearling I probably ever bought, and Take Charge Lady, but to me young horses are the best way to go. I enjoyed developing him, and he was one of them that looked like he was a good value at the time.
CB: What did you see from him from his last race as a 2-year-old to the Holy Bull?
KM: Well, in his last work here, prior to entering in the Holy Bull, he sat on the outside of another horse and really put him away the last eighth of a mile. We typically try to keep our young horses together and match them so that they’re equals, and we don’t like one outworking the other one, but that particular morning, he was so keen to go on, my regular rider, Danny Ramsey, he just dropped his hands and Harvey went right on. At that moment, I called Harold and I said, “I really think I’d rather run in the Holy Bull. We’d even thought about going to Tampa. I told him, I said, “I think he’s good enough right now to go ahead and pull the trigger, because he’s as good as I can get him. I’ve only got to lead him over a few hundred yards here and if he’s good enough, great. We’ll learn something. If he isn’t, then we’ll learn something.” So, certainly, we learned a lot.
CB: And what did you see in the body of the Holy Bull?
KM: He understood what he was supposed to do, and I think that was key. He’s certainly got nice turn of foot and his female line’s Distorted Humor, which adds a nice speed injection to the top line. I do a lot of that. When I buy yearlings, I’ll look at the pedigree and see if it looks like there’s some speed in there somewhere, because you’ve got to have turn of foot to win high-level races. In his case, he just cruised along early and punched when he needed it and the result was obviously a good one.
CB: What’s the plan with him now?
KM: I’m leaning towards just waiting for the Florida Derby. I’ve got another really nice colt here, Signalman, and the plan with him has been either the Fountain of Youth or the Tampa Bay Derby, but I’m probably leaning towards the Fountain of Youth with Signalman. And, with Harvey, he fired such a big shot with a long layoff there, I think that waiting for the Florida Derby might be a smart move, because I think it gives him a chance to get a little bigger and stronger. He’ll have to punch his Derby point ticket that day, but I think that’s doable. I’m a little concerned about running [Harvey Wallbanger] back in the Fountain of Youth and then coming back again in the Florida Derby and I might have squeezed him a little dry by spring. It’s what you might call a high-level problem. We’re going to let him tell us. At this point, he had a great day training today. It feels good. But, right now, the Florida Derby would be the next spot.
CB: You mentioned Signalman. Can you contrast and compare these two colts?
KM: You know, Harvey’s a much smaller horse than Signalman. Signalman’s a big bull, hits the ground a little harder than Harvey. Harvey really floats over the ground but Signalman is just a powerful machine. He certainly stamps himself as a serious prospect. The problem now is to keep them separated. I had this problem years back when I’d had Harlan’s Holiday and Repent and ended up with Sarava winning the [GI] Belmont [S.], so keeping these kind of horses separated is a good problem to have, and we’re going to try to do that. Nine-tenths of it is keeping them healthy, and then if you can make the race, you’ve got to get the lucky trip. The runners that I’ve had in the past, Tejano Run was second for me in 1995, and in all honesty, I thought it wouldn’t take me so long to have won that race. We’ve kind of been around the bullseye with it a little bit. Harlan’s Holiday went off the favorite, and I believe we misjudged the pace that day. If I could have that as a do over, I would have loved to have had it. But, it’s a learning process. I’m 56. It’s not supposed to be easy. You try to find these kind of horses, whether you’re working an auction or you’re training on a daily basis. These are the kind of horses that we thrive for, and give you energy to get up every day.